Category Archives: Annotated Games

Last Throes

William Pollock is not the only chess player I’ve been reading about recently. I’ve been waiting three decades to read Jimmy Adams’ book Gyula Breyer, The Chess Revolutionary. published by New in Chess. It was well worth the wait.

You probably know two things about Breyer, that he played 9… Nb8 in the Ruy Lopez and that he claimed (perhaps because of 9… Nb8) that after 1. e4 White’s game was in the last throes. But neither of these is true, or at least there’s no evidence. The Breyer Variation of the Ruy Lopez was named by Barcza and other Hungarian players in the 1950s: they had been told by Viennese players that Breyer had recommended it in an essay, but the essay in question has not yet come to light. It was Tartakower who first claimed that Breyer had written that after 1. e4 White’s game was in the last throes, but again there’s no evidence that he wrote anything beyond saying that White’s position was compromised.

Like Pollock, Breyer had a short life and a short career. He was born in Budapest in 1893 and died of heart disease at the age of only 28 in Bratislava in 1921. His career started early, by the standards of his day, and he won the Hungarian Championship in 1912. He played at Mannheim in 1914, and was sharing fourth place when the tournament was abandoned due to the outbreak of war. There was no international chess for the next four years so he was only able to take part in national competitions. His best result came in Berlin in December 1920, when he scored 6½/9, finishing a full point ahead of Tartakower and Bogoljubov, but 11 months later he was dead.

Breyer’s historical importance was as a founder of the Hypermodern School of chess. He was a friend of Réti and a big influence on Nimzowitsch. Breyer may not have said that after 1. e4 White’s game is in its last throes, but he made some pretty sweeping and controversial statements about openings.

He believed, for example, that 2. d4 in the French or Caro-Kann was a mistake, preferring instead 2. d3, not, as we might today, playing a King’s Indian Attack but instead going for a reversed Philidor. He also recommended 1. e4 Nf6 2. d3, considering 2. e5 a mistake, and planning to meet 2… e5 with 3. f4, claiming a white advantage.

After 1. d4 Breyer awarded 1… d5 a question mark, and, if instead 1. d4 Nf6, 2. c4 also received a question mark because of 2… d6. I guess you can see what he’s getting at. Any pawn in the centre could be a target for attack. Did he actually believe his assessments or was be just being, like many chess players, a professional contrarian? Who knows?

His chess playing style was unconventional, as well, favouring paradoxical ideas and obscure manoeuvres, but also demonstrating an extraordinary combinational talent.

This book is very different from the scholarly biographies published by McFarland. What we have, in a hardback book of 876 pages, is a compendium of 240 games played by Breyer, with annotations collated from many sources, along with Breyer’s essays, articles and newspaper columns (he was a prolific journalist), translated into English for the first time, and articles about Breyer from many other sources. The material is arranged chronologically and interspersed with a biography of our hero.

Let’s examine Breyer’s most famous game. He’s playing white against Johannes Esser, in a tournament played in Budapest in 1917.

1. d4 d5
2. c4 c6
3. e3 Nf6
4. Nc3 e6
5. Bd3 Bd6
6. f4 O-O
7. Nf3 dxc4
8. Bb1

Most of us would recapture without much though, but Breyer has his eyes set on a king-side attack.

8… b5
9. e4 Be7
10. Ng5 h6
11. h4

This is Breyer’s immediate idea: the same idea as the Fishing Pole Trap. The intention is to mate Black down the h-file.

11… g6
12. e5

At this point Breyer claimed he’d seen up to move 26. Do we believe him? I have my doubts.

12… hxg5
13. hxg5 Nd5
14. Kf1

This extraordinary move is the reason this game became famous. The immediate point is to avoid a potential pin if Black plays Bb4, but the grandiose idea only becomes clear many moves later. White wants to avoid a potential Bh4+.

14… Nxc3
15. bxc3 Bb7

This looks suspect: how does this move help defend his king-side. Qe8 and Nd7 were better alternatives.

16. Qg4 Kg7
17. Rh7+ Kxh7
18. Qh5+ Kg8
19. Bxg6 fxg6
20. Qxg6+ Kh8
21. Qh6+ Kg8
22. g6

Now we see the main point of Kf1. If the king was still on e1 Black would have been able to defend with Bh4+ here.

22… Rf7
23. gxf7+ Kxf7
24. Qh5+ Kg7

Black could draw here by playing Kg8. Now 25. f5 fails to Qf8 so White has nothing better than perpetual check. However, I can find no mention of this in the book.

25. f5 exf5
26. Bh6+

Some sources stop the game here claiming either that Black resigned or that White won in a few moves. White did win – eventually, after mutual blunders in time trouble. 26. e6+ would have forced mate in 9 moves, as would either Ke2 or Bf4+ but Breyer’s choice didn’t spoil anything.

26… Kh7
27. Bg5+ Kg8
28. Qg6+ Kh8
29. Qh6+

29. Bf6+ was the quickest way to win.

29… Kg8
30. Qe6+

White could still return to the previous position but now Black can escape.

30… Kf8
31. Qxf5+ Kg7
32. Bh6+ Kxh6
33. Ke2 Bc8
34. Rh1+ Bh4
35. e6

35. Rxh4+ Qxh4 36. Qf8+ is a perpetual check. Now Black can win by returning one of his three extra pieces: 35… Bxe6.

35… Qe7
36. Qf4+ Kg7
37. Rxh4 Qxe6+
38. Kd2 Na6

38… Bd7 was a possible improvement.

39. Rh5 Qf6

The final mistake. After 39… Bd7 White would win the black queen under less favourable curcumstances and Black would have been able to fight on. Now a series of forks will pick up Black’s loose pieces.

40. Rh7+ Kxh7
41. Qxf6 Bg4
42. Qh4+ Kg7
43. Qxg4+ Kf6
44. Qf3+ Ke7
45. Qxc6 Rg8
46. Qxa6 Rxg2+
47. Kc1 1-0

A flawed masterpiece, you might think. The same could also be said for the book. The amount of research, much of which was carried out three decades ago, is prodigious and the material endlessly fascinating. It’s strange, though, that, although twenty pages are devoted to discussing this game, quoting analysis and articles from many sources, and some computer analysis has been carried out, there’s no mention of 24… Kg8, which demonstrates that Breyer’s combination, spectacular though it was, should only have sufficed for a draw.

There are a few minor oversights: for example, the tournament table on p853 is incorrectly captioned. There has been, understandably some criticism concerning insufficiently detailed sources. This might be annoying if you’re a serious chess historian and want to refer to the originals but will be of no concern to most readers.

If you have any interest at all in chess history this book is an essential purchase. If you have an specific interest in the development of chess ideas over the years, again you have to buy this book.

One final thought. Last week I suggested that we were living in a golden age for chess history, with outstanding books such as this one being published regularly. Now chess is becoming a game for small children and professional players, will there be anyone left to write, or even read books like this in twenty years time? Or is chess history in its last throes?

Richard James

Golden Age

We’re currently living in a golden age for chess history, due in no small measure to the American publishing house McFarland & Co, who, for some years now, have provided us with a constant stream of elegant, beautifully produced hardback books concerning the history of the Royal Game.

I’ve recently enjoyed reading one of this year’s offerings, a biography of William Henry Krause Pollock, written by two of McFarland’s most experienced authors, Olimpiu Urcan and John Hilbert.

Pollock was a relatively minor figure in the history of chess, with a career of only a decade or so playing at master level. His highest EDO rating, 2463, ranked him 36th in the world in 1892. His short but interesting life, together with his attractive style of play, make him a worthy subject for a full biography.

William Pollock was born into an Anglo-Irish family in Cheltenham in 1859, the son of a clergyman. After various postings his father, now a widower, eventually settled in Bath. William studied medicine in Dublin, qualifying as a surgeon, but decided to forsake the operating theatre for the chessboard.

He started off playing in club matches and in lower sections of congresses, but by 1885 had graduated to the Masters sections. The 2nd Irish Chess Association Congress in 1886 provided him with what would be his greatest success, when he beat the visiting masters Blackburne and Burn as well as all the local players, the strongest and most interesting of whom was Richard Whieldon Barnett, also an expert rifle shooter, who would become the Conservative and Unionist MP for St Pancras West, and later St Pancras South West.

In 1889 Pollock crossed the Atlantic to take part in the 6th American Chess Congress in New York, one of the great international tournaments of the time. He finished 11th out of 20 competitors with a score of 17½/38, well behind the leaders Chigorin and Weiss (29/38), Gunsberg (28½), Blackburne (27), Burn (26), and Lipschütz (25½). He did, however, have the consolation of winning the Brilliancy Prize for his Round 35(!) victory with the black pieces over one of the joint winners, the very strong but now forgotten Miksa (Max) Weiss (1857-1927), who would give up professional chess soon after this event. Oh, look! It’s game 11111 in my database!

1. e4 e5
2. Nf3 Nc6
3. Bb5 a6
4. Ba4 Nf6
5. d3 b5
6. Bb3 Bc5
7. c3 d5

The opening is of some interest. Weiss plays the sort of slow set-up with c3 and d3 much favoured today, and Pollock hits back in the centre, offering a pawn sacrifice in the style of Marshall.

8. exd5 Nxd5
9. Qe2 O-O
10. Qe4 Be6
11. Nxe5

This is too dangerous. 11. Ng5 g6 12. Nxe6 was to be preferred.

11… Nxe5
12. Qxe5 Nb4
13. O-O Nxd3
14. Qh5 Bxb3
15. axb3 Re8
16. Nd2 Qe7
17. b4 Bxf2+
18. Kh1

18. Rxf2 loses to 18… Qe1+ 19. Rf1 Qe3+. Black has many good moves now, but Pollock, typically, chooses the most spectacular option.

18… Qe1
19. h3

Allowing the following queen sacrifice.

19… Nxc1
20. Rxe1 Rxe1+
21. Kh2 Bg1+
22. Kg3 Re3+

22… Ne2+, regaining material, was also possible but Pollock correctly prefers a mating attack.

23. Kg4 Ne2
24. Nf1 g6
25. Qd5 h5+
26. Kg5 Kg7
27. Nxe3 f6+
28. Kh4 Bf2+
29. g3 Bxg3#

After this event Pollock decided to stay in America, even though there were fewer opportunities for competitive chess there than in Europe. He travelled the country giving simuls and meeting local players, and, for a few months in 1892, he acted as Steinitz’s secretary in New York. He later moved to Canada, and it was as Canada’s representative that he was invited to take part in the famous Hastings tournament of 1895.

Not surprisingly, he found the competition there a bit hot and finished 19th out of 22 competitors with a score of 9 points. His victims, though, included both Tarrasch and Steinitz.

Shortly after the tournament his health worsened due to tuberculosis, and Hastings proved to be his swan song. He died at his father’s house a year later.

So that was Pollock. Consistently inconsistent, I suppose you could say, typically finishing below the recognised masters but above the local players who were there to make up the numbers in most 19th century events. A player capable of beating anyone on his day, a producer of brilliancies but also likely to lose games due to unsound attacks or careless oversights.

While there are many more distinguished practitioners of our game who have yet to receive a full biography, if you have any interest at all in chess history of this period you should buy this book. You’ll find almost 200 pages of biography followed by 523 games annotated using both contemporary sources and modern insights. I have just two minor complaints. I’d have liked to see the cross-tables of the tournaments in which Pollock participated, and would have preferred more detailed solutions to the problems which appear in various places in the book. The quality of research, writing and production are all exemplary and, as a matter of principle, writers and publishers of such a high quality product should be supported. If you don’t have any interest in chess history, I’d suggest you should. It’s part of our history, part of our heritage, and, although the openings may be old-fashioned there’s still much to learn from the games. It’s also a delight to witness the attacking skill of Pollock at his best. You might think that, just as the early 21st century is a golden age for chess history, the late 19th century was a golden age of chess playing.

Richard James

Two Rooks on the Seventh

Nimzowitsch was one of the first ones to highlight the power of two rooks on the seventh rank in his famous book “My System” published in 1925. Many a player are reminded of it time and time again or are happy to have it as a resource to draw or win their games. This month I got a first hand reminder during one of my online games. It is not that I have forgotten about it, but I simply overlooked it and lost half a point in the process. Lesson 24, level 4 of our app will get a new addition to the existing collection of puzzles on this subject. Let’s see the game together:

Do not dismiss the potential of two rooks on the seventh. Contrary to the popular belief the purpose for such rooks is not to checkmate the opponent or even win the game on the spot. Their purpose is to use their dominance and gain material advantage one can further use to win the game; in our case their purpose was to save half a point for white after a dubious opening and some poor play. Next time I will be far more reluctant to find exceptions (are there any?…) where those rooks on the seventh won’t help.

Valer Eugen Demian

Rating and Psychology in Chess

Chess is more of a psychological battle than a battle on the board, in particular when facing higher or lower rated opponents. If I talk about myself, I much prefer endgames especially against lower rated players and won’t hesitate to go into endgame even with equal pawns or opposite color bishops. This is because I believe that lower rated players tend to be weak in endgames and so far this strategy worked for me the majority of times. Most people adopt a different approach when playing against lower rated players and take more risks compared to how they would play against higher rated players. They will also go for more pieces exchanges against higher rated players. A person who overcomes this mindset is likely to perform better which is why coaches tell their student to play their natural game. Eperience shows, more or less, that this works.

Here is a game of mine against one of my friends, a much higher rated player. We both had full points after 4 rounds so whoever wons would become the champion. We reached to following position after 22 moves and it is Black to move.

The first move came to my mind was …Nd5 (psychology works) and exchange down into a position in which White doesn’t have a clear win but he does have a very active position. As we know each other very well, my opponent was hoping for this because I prefer endgames. But I decided to reject this move.

The second move came to my mind was more ambitious, placing the rook on open file (Rad8), but then I was very worried about the f6 and d6 squares. So finally played …f6! which was a necessary exchange.

22. …f6 23. exf6 Qxf6 24. b4 Rad8 25. Ne4 Qf5 26. Nc5 Rf7 27. Rce1 Nd5 28. Ne6! Re8?!

Much better was …Rd6.

29. g4?!

Better was Ng7!, a difficult move to see, and that was the reason Rd6 was much better than Re8.

In this position …Qf6 might be Ok for Black but I choose …Qxe6!. At that time my evaluation was that the rook and knight would hold White’s queen.

30. Rxe6 Rxe6
31. f5 Re3
32. Qg2 g5
33. Rf3!

And now I realised that my evaluation was incorrect because I can’t generate significant threats with the rook and knight whereas his queen will be much active. Luckily the exchange of rooks was not compulsory and soon we had a repetition of moves and game was ended in a draw.

So basically you can perform better if you can overcome this psychological issue of wanting to exchange pieces against higher rated players. It can be hard to do but seems easy when you actually do it.

Ashvin Chauhan

Sacrifice for Beginners

“Sacrifice (definition) = a move that gives up material to gain a positional or tactical advantage”

For a long time my first reaction when someone played a sacrifice against me was to feel shivers down my spine. How could I not see this? The sacrifice must be correct, right? The opponent knows what its doing. This of course put me in a defensive position and because of that the sacrifice was already successful. It did not let me look at it with the right frame of mind. How could I stand a chance to play my best against it? I thought about this as I was preparing my new lesson for the current level 2 group of students. We were covering basic mistakes in the opening and punishing those require more often than not one or more sacrifices. I know that for beginners the value of pieces is like the 10 Commandments and because of that reason alone, seeing sacrifices in their games is very rare. This means no chances to punish basic opening mistakes. Let’s take on the challenge to rectify this situation.

We were looking at the following game (also included in level 2, lesson 2 of our chess app):

The theme for this one is called “Cannot play one against all” and it is a hot topic for beginners. After reaching the position above, I could see their puzzled eyes looking at it and could tell they did not understand what was going on. I jumped at the opportunity to introduce them to the topic of sacrifice and did my best to make it as simple as possible.

  • Step 1: We looked at the position and observed Black had an extra pawn and with the last move it was threatening to win either a rook or a queen for the knight
  • Step 2: The first try when facing a sacrifice is to see what happens if you accept it. We played the best line we could think of starting with 6. Kxf2 … The conclusion was that accepting the sacrifice was not a good idea
  • Step 3: We started to look for alternatives and one target we have been talking about (the f7-weak spot) was already attacked by our Bc4; with one attacker and one defender (Ke8), we needed to bring into the action another attacker. This is how the move Rh1-f1 was discovered: it attacked Nf2 and once the knight would move away, we could have a second attacker on f7
  • Step 4: At this moment we had a closer look to see if there was a better move also bringing our rook on f1; O-O became evident within seconds
  • Step 5: Bringing the rook on the f-file meant sacrificing the queen. We have a rule of thumb saying “Sacrifice your Queen only if you can checkmate or get the queen back and then some”
  • Step 6: It was easy to see we could not get our queen back, so the class had the pleasure to look for checkmate

Hope you have figured out the solution by now. Enjoy it below and hope our quest to find it has been instructive!

Valer Eugen Demian

Chickening Out

By now the league season had finished but we were still in the cup, facing Surbiton in the semi-finals. I had yet another white, against former RJCC member Jasper Tambini, who was graded 185 at the time, but is now 202.

I wheeled out my trusty QGD Exchange. Here’s what happened.

1. d4 d5
2. c4 e6
3. Nc3 Nf6
4. cxd5 exd5
5. Bg5 Be7
6. e3 h6

An unusual move order. Black usually plays c6 or O-O here.

7. Bh4 c6
8. Qc2 O-O
9. Bd3 Re8
10. Nf3 Nbd7
11. O-O Ne4
12. Bxe7 Qxe7
13. Nd2

White usually heads for the minority attack with Rab1 here. Bxe4 is another popular choice. My plan of trading knights on e4 shouldn’t give me anything.

13… Ndf6
14. Ndxe4 dxe4
15. Be2 Nd5
16. Nxd5 cxd5
17. Rac1 Qg5
18. Qc7 Re6

He could have played Be6 here, intending to meet 19. Qxb7 with Bh3. Tactical points like this are always important. Calculation in chess is more about spotting this sort of idea than ‘sac sac mate’. Now I might have tried 19. f4, but instead, predictably, head for the ending.

19. Qg3 Qxg3
20. hxg3 Rb6
21. b3 Bd7
22. Rc5 Bc6
23. Rfc1 a5
24. f3 exf3
25. Bxf3 a4
26. bxa4 Rxa4
27. R1c2 Ra3

White’s attacking the black d-pawn while Black in turn targets the white a-pawn. It’s still equal.

28. Kf2 Rba6
29. Bxd5 Bxd5
30. Rxd5 Rxa2

An alternative was 30… Rf6+ 31. Ke2 Re6, switching his attention to the e-pawn.

31. Rd8+ Kh7
32. Rxa2 Rxa2+
33. Kf3 Kg6
34. Rd6+ f6
35. Rb6 Ra7

This is clearly a mistake. Black should give up the a-pawn to remain active rather than moving his rook to this poor square. 35… h5 36. Rxb7 f5 and Black is holding. One idea is Kf6 followed by g5, g4+ and Rf2#, although of course White isn’t going to allow this!

36. e4 Kf7
37. Kf4 h5
38. e5

Giving Black some counterplay. 39. d5 should have been preferred.

38… Ra4
39. Rxb7+ Ke6
40. Rb6+ Kf7

Losing a vital tempo. 40… Ke7 still offered drawing chances.

41. e6+ Ke7
42. Ke4 g6

At this point Jasper unexpectedly offered a draw. My emotions were conflicted. Regular readers, as well as anyone who knows me in real life, will be aware that I’m almost always happy to agree a draw, regardless of the position. As my opponent is a former RJCC member and we’ve always been very big on cultivating sportsmanship, I’d assume he would only offer a draw if he thought he could hold the position. Offering a draw in a position you know is lost when your opponent has enough time on the clock is, to say the least, bad manners. It seemed to me like a position in which, whether or not I was winning, I could press without any danger of losing. But then I became tormented by negative thoughts. Perhaps I would freeze and end up losing on time. Perhaps he’d capture my g-pawns and his pawns would start advancing towards promotion. Perhaps, perhaps, perhaps.

In fact the position’s an easy win for White, as long as I find some fairly accurate king moves to escape the black rook’s attention. For example: 43.Rc6 Rb4 44.Kd5 Rb5+ 45.Kc4 Rb2 46.d5 Rc2+ (or 46…Rxg2 47.Rc7+ Kd8 48.e7+ Kxc7 49.e8Q) 47.Kb4 Rb2+ (or 47…Rxc6 48.dxc6 Kxe6 49.Kc5 with a winning pawn ending) 48.Kc3 Re2 49.Kd3 Re1 50.Rc7+ Kd6 51.Rd7+ Kc5 52.e7 Re5 53.d6 and the e-pawn will eventually promote.

But of course I agreed the draw. Meanwhile, although we were heavily outgraded on all but the top board, a couple of the other games went in our favour. We lost the match 3½-2½, but if I’d played on and won, we’d have drawn 3-3 and gone through to the finals on board count.

What else could I say? A lot, actually, but not now.

Richard James

The Heffalump’s Escape

For my penultimate game of the season I was paired against a formidable opponent in Alan Perkins, joint British U16 Boys Champion in 1965 and student international in the 1970s. In recent years he’s preferred to ply his trade in the calmer waters of the local chess leagues.

My archives remind me that we first met 40 years previously in a weekend congress when I managed to draw. I was slightly worse in the final position but quite probably ahead on the clock. We met again in 2010, in another match between Richmond B and Ealing A, when I lost.

In both games I had white and faced the King’s Indian Defence, trying the Saemisch Variation in 1977 and the Smyslov Variation in 2010. In 2017 I was again White, and it was another Smyslov Variation.

1. d4 Nf6
2. c4 g6
3. Nc3 Bg7
4. Nf3 O-O
5. Bg5 c5
6. d5

I’d learnt from my earlier game against Mike Singleton to play d5 here.

6… d6
7. e4

Looks natural, but the stats suggest that e3 is to be preferred. It’s slightly more popular, the choice of stronger players and has a much better percentage. Maybe next time.

7… h6
8. Bh4

Again natural, but the stronger players – and the stats, prefer Bf4.

8… e6
9. Be2

Again, Nd2 is the expert move.

9… exd5
10. exd5

Choosing a King’s Indian rather than Benoni formation. An unpopular decision which also scores poorly for White. If you’re playing a 2200 strength opponent it helps if you know some theory!

10… Qb6

A new move. 10… g5 11. Bg3 Nh5 is the recommended plan.

11. Qd2 Bf5
12. O-O Nbd7
13. h3 Rfe8
14. Bd3 Ne4
15. Bxe4 Bxe4
16. Nxe4 Rxe4
17. Rac1

White has problems with the long diagonal but could defend tactically: 17. Qc2 Rae8 18. Qa4.

17… Rae8

Here there was no reason why Black couldn’t have taken the pawn: 17… Qxb2 18. Qxb2 Bxb2 19. Rb1 Bg7 20. Rxb7 Nb6 and c4 will fall while Black can hold d6.

18. Rfe1

There was no reason not to play 18. b3 here, and no reason for Black not to trade rooks and then take on b3. We’d both misjudged the position.

18… f5
19. Bg3

Again, I could have played 19. b3 and he could have captured the pawn.

19… g5
20. Rxe4 Rxe4
21. Nxg5

21. b3 was still about equal. I was concerned about my bishop being buried alive after 21… f4 but I can always play g3 at a convenient time.

Instead I lash out with a ridiculous sacrifice, hoping to get three pawns against a piece. Or perhaps, aware of Alan’s tendency to get into time trouble, trying to lure the heffalump into a swamp in a deep dark forest. You decide.

21… hxg5
22. Qxg5 Qxb2
23. Bxd6 Qf6

I’d missed this simple defence. I might have played 24. Qg3 to keep the queens on, but instead traded.

24. Qxf6 Bxf6
25. Rc2 Be5
26. Bxe5 Nxe5
27. f3 Rxc4

Now I only have one pawn for the piece. Time to resign?

28. Re2 Nf7
29. Re8+ Kg7
30. Re7 Rc2

30… b5 was the easiest way to win.

31. Rxb7 Rxa2
32. d6 Kf6
33. d7

My passed pawn reaches the seventh rank. Black will have to be a bit careful.

33… c4
34. Rc7 Ra4
35. g4 fxg4

35… Ke7 was the way to go: 36. d8Q+ Kxd8 37. Rxf7 c3 and the white rook can’t get back.

36. fxg4 Nd8

Now Ke7 doesn’t work because the white rook can return via the f-file to stop the c-pawn.

37. g5+ Ke7
38. g6 Ra6
39. g7 Rg6+
40. Kf2 Rxg7
41. Rxa7 Kd6
42. Ke3 Kc5
43. Rc7+ Kd5

The territory’s becoming swampy for Black now as he only has one pawn left and the white d-pawn is surviving. The only path to victory here was 43… Kb4, but it’s not so easy in the quickplay finish.

44. h4 Rh7
45. Ra7

The wrong plan. The way to hold was to get the white rook to the eighth rank to have access to the b-file. So: 45. h5 Rxh5 46. Rc8 Rh8 47. Rb8/Ra8 and there doesn’t seem to be any way for Black to make progress.

Now 45… Kc5 would have put Black back on track, but instead he captured the h-pawn.

45… Rxh4
46. Ra8 Rh3+
47. Kd2 c3+
48. Kc2 Kc4

48… Rh8 was a simple draw, and even Kd4 was good enough. But instead the heffalump tumbled head first into the swamp. Will the tiger put the boot in and score an unlikely and, frankly, undeserved victory?

49. Rc8+

Sadly not. All I had to do to win the game from here was to play one of the most obvious moves in the history of chess: 49.Rxd8 Rh2+ 50.Kb1 Rh1+ 51.Ka2 Rd1 52.Rc8+ Kb4 53.d8Q Rd2+ 54.Kb1 c2+ 55.Kc1 Rxd8 56.Rxd8 and wins. For some reason (or for no reason at all other than having to blitz during a mutual time scramble) I had a brainstorm and decided I needed to check before rather than after capturing the knight.

49… Kd4
50. Rxd8 Rh2+
51. Kb3

Moving up the board because I was scared of mate threats. This is fine but Kb1 and Kc1 also draw, although Kd1 loses. Ironically, without the white pawn on d7 the draw would be automatic.

51… Rb2+
52. Ka3 Rb7
53. Rh8 Rxd7
54. Rh4+

54. Kb3 was again an automatic draw. He could only prevent Kc2 by playing Kd3 when I can just play Rh3+.

54… Kd3
55. Rh3+ Kc2
56. Rh2+ Rd2

At this point I stopped recording my moves. I’m not sure what I played here but it certainly wasn’t Rxd2. The position’s still drawn but it’s easy for White to go wrong now, which is what happened, and Alan just about had enough time to force checkmate.

An exciting ending which I certainly should have drawn, and was, for just one half-move, winning. I really shouldn’t have been allowed to get that close. Perhaps randomising the position on move 21 was justified even though it was an awful move.

You might also think that trying to play a proper game of chess in 2½ or even 3 hours is ridiculous. I agree, but I also think both adjournments and adjudications are ridiculous.

Richard James

The Fourth Missed Fork

For my next match I was back at Surbiton, and facing Steve Kearney, my opponent in the first Missed Fork game, again with the white pieces.

I went for the Queens Gambit again, but this time chose a slightly different set-up.

1. d4 Nf6
2. c4 e6
3. Nf3 d5
4. Nc3 Be7
5. Bf4 c6
6. e3 Nbd7
7. h3 O-O
8. cxd5 exd5
9. Bd3 Re8
10. O-O Nf8
11. Ne5 Ng6
12. Nxg6 hxg6
13. Qc2 Nh5
14. Bh2 Bd6
15. Bxd6 Qxd6
16. Rab1 Bd7
17. b4 b6
18. a4 Nf6

So far so orthodox. I might have waited and tried to prevent c5 before playing b5.

19. b5 c5
20. dxc5 Qxc5

Black chooses an IQP formation. He might also have played bxc5, with hanging pawns.

21. Rbc1

21. Ne2, controlling the key d4 square, was more to the point. Now, and also over the next few moves, Black could play d4, trading off the isolated pawn.

21… Rac8
22. Rfd1 Qb4
23. Qb1 Qh4

Instead Black goes for a king-side attack.

24. Qb3 Be6
25. Qa3 g5
26. Ne2 Nd7

Vacillating. There were better alternatives, such as Rcd8, keeping more pieces on the board. I was expecting, and rather concerned about, the consistent 26… g4, but the engines aren’t too bothered, continuing with 27. Rxc8 Rxc8 28. g3 Qxh3 29. Qd6 with more than enough for the pawn. I rather suspect that 28. g3 wouldn’t have occurred to me.

27. Rxc8 Rxc8
28. Nd4 Nc5
29. Nf5 Bxf5
30. Bxf5 Rd8
31. Rd4

Looks natural, but the engines prefer Bg4 or Qa2.

31… Qh6
32. Bg4 Qg6
33. Bf3

Careless. I should have played Qa2 first to prevent Qb1+ or Qc2.

33… Qb1+
34. Rd1 Qc2
35. a5

Not 35. Rxd5 Rxd5 36. Bxd5 Qd1+. Now Black should try 35… Ne4, with equality, but instead makes what should have been a fatal blunder.

35… Qc4
36. axb6 axb6

And here’s the Fourth Missed Fork. I just hadn’t thought about the significance of opening the a-file. Of course, if you know it’s there it’s easy: 37. Bxd5 just wins everything. A sacrifice to set up a check which is also a fork. Time and time again I miss simple tactics by failing to do what I’ve been trying to teach my pupils to do for decades: look for every check, capture and threat.

37. Rd4 Qxb5
38. Bxd5 Rf8
39. Qa7 Ne6
40. Bxe6 fxe6
41. Rd7

Natural, I suppose, when you’re running low on time, but I failed to spot that the black queen can reach b2 to defend g7, when White will have problems defending f2. Instead Qe7 would have offered some chances. Now the game lurches towards the inevitable draw.

41… Qb1+
42. Kh2 Qb2
43. Re7 Rxf2
44. Qb7 Qe5+
45. Kg1 Rb2
46. Qc8+ Kh7
47. Qxe6 Rb1+
48. Kf2 Rb2+
49. Kg1 1/2-1/2

Richard James

Missed Opportunities

My next match involved a trip to Uxbridge, where I was expecting to play their top board, Charlie Nettleton, a young player with a grade of 187 (now 197). I found quite a lot of Charlie’s games on MegaBase, but discovered that he’s one of these players who chooses a different opening every time, which at least meant I didn’t have to waste any more time on preparation.

I had the black pieces and soon found myself in a Vienna/Bishop’s Opening hybrid, another post-theory opening.

1. e4 e5
2. Nc3 Nf6
3. Bc4 Nc6
4. d3 Bb4
5. Bg5 d6
6. Nge2 Na5
7. Bb5+ c6
8. Ba4 b5
9. Bb3 Nxb3
10. axb3 h6
11. Bh4 Be6
12. O-O O-O
13. Kh1 g5
14. Bg3 Nh5
15. d4

Fairly equal so far, but my next move is a blunder. Instead, Qc7 would have been about equal.

15… Qf6
16. d5

Missing an opportunity. White could win a pawn here with the natural move 16. Ra6. This creates two threats. The obvious one is Rxc6, but there’s also a threat of Na2, when the bishop on b4 has nowhere to go. A problem-like theme: White creates this threat by moving his rook beyond the a2 square. Now I could deal with this threat by playing 16… Bxc3, but after 17. Nxc3 White has another threat. The knight recapture has uncovered the possibility of Qxh5. I could meet that threat with 17… Nxg3, but after 18. fxg3 White reveals another discovered attack, and this time there’s no way out. I can’t move the queen to defend c6 so the c-pawn finally falls.

16… cxd5
17. exd5

Taking with a piece seems more natural, and probably stronger.

17… Bd7
18. Qd3 a6
19. f3 Qe7
20. Bf2 f5
21. Na2 e4
22. fxe4 fxe4
23. Qd1 Bc5
24. Bxc5 Rxf1+
25. Qxf1 dxc5
26. Nac3 b4
27. Nd1 Rf8
28. Qg1

I’ve outplayed my opponent over the last few moves, but at the cost of precious time on the clock. I now have the chance to gain a decisive advantage.

28… Qd6

The sort of safe move you play in time trouble, defending the pawn on a6 and blockading the d-pawn. But I could have done much better: passed pawns should be pushed! The first point of 28… e3 is that the pawn can’t be taken. 29. Nxe3 runs into Re8, skewering the white knights, while 29. Qxe3 is even worse after Rf1+. White has nothing better than 29. Rxa6 when Black continues 29… Bg4 (but not 29… Bb5 30. Re6) and White has no defence. For instance, 30. Ng3 Nxg3+ 31. hxg3 Rf1 32. Qxf1 e2 and wins, or 30. Qe1 Qe4 (more accurate than 30… Bxe2 31. Rg6+ Kh7 32. Re6) followed by Bxe2 and Nf4. The best try is 30. Qxe3 Bxe2 when White clearly can’t capture the black queen, so has nothing better than 31. Ra8 Qxe3 32. Rxf8+ Kxf8+ 33. Nxe3 and Black, with a piece against two pawns, should win.

I should add that e3 was also very strong, as well as being rather more obvious, the previous move. Nimzowitsch was right about passed pawns!

29. Ne3

Now it’s equal, or would have been after the more active 29… Bb5.

29… Bc8
30. Rd1 Nf4
31. Ng3 Qg6
32. Nc4

White misses the chance to push his passed pawn: 32. d6 was strong.

32… Re8

Now I should have given up my e-pawn for activity: 32… e3 33. Nxe3 h5 with enough compensation for the pawn according to the engines.

Instead, with little time remaining, I overlooked the discovered attack after which my position collapsed.

33. Qxc5 Bg4
34. Re1 h5
35. Ne3 Bc8
36. d6 Qf6
37. Qc6 Rd8
38. Nxe4 Qe5
39. Nc4 Qd4
40. Nxg5 Bd7
41. Qc7 Qf6
42. Ne4 Qf8
43. Ne5 Nd5
44. Nxd7 Nxc7
45. Nxf8 Kxf8
46. dxc7 Rc8
47. Ng5 1-0

An interesting game with some missed opportunities on both sides. My main problem, as usual, was poor time handling. With much less time on the clock against a much younger opponent it’s highly likely that things will go wrong.

Richard James

Missing The Obvious

“When your mind tries to verify a preconceived notion you can miss the obvious”
James Cook

My latest entertaining turn based game on lasted for 7 months. The game had many twists and turns as the positional battle shifted between both sides of the chessboard; later in the game the tactics could have tipped the balance in my favour. Unfortunately I missed the winning idea time and time again; some might ask how is this possible when 3 days per move reflection time sounds like an eternity. The truth is life happens every day with moves in between and a lot of times one wishes they could just play without interruptions or waiting time from beginning to end. Here is the game with all the important moments highlighted:

The lessons learned from it are at least the following:

  • Do your best not to have preconceived ideas and verify each exchange sequence possible one more time before committing (missing the obvious #1)
  • Identify and learn from missed opportunities on both sides during post mortem analysis (missing the obvious #2)
  • Work on your tactics consistently and relentlessly to be able to convert won positions into full points (missing the obvious #3 to #6)
  • Be strong and alert from beginning to end especially when you can feel you have missed a couple of opportunities. You never know when you might get another chance; the opponent could falter as well (missing the obvious #7 and #8)

Valer Eugen Demian